Israel and Gaza are at war; there really is no other word for it. And as the fighting escalates, so does the propaganda. The fact of the matter is though, that no matter how much blame the media gets for presenting one-sided points of view, it is everyday people who are doing most of the arguing. Inflammatory blog posts, poorly-researched news stories, and misidentified pictures are being shared at breakneck speed. All of it is being presented as equally true and each new post is touted as the smoking gun. It’s got to stop. It does no good and prevents any possibility for reconciliation.
With that in mind, I would like to propose the following guidelines for real discussion and true understanding:
1. Consider the experience of the other side.
Arguments are weapons and tend to eclipse the reality that people live under. History is important, but what motivates people is what they encounter outside their door or in their bomb shelter. So, in order to have a real discussion, we need to empathize and enter into the perspective of each side.
For example, it is terrible to live in Israel when Hamas is lobbing missiles randomly into neighborhoods. People are petrified and the randomness of it all makes matters worse.
Now, there are many who will read this last sentence and will protest “but Israel bombs…,” but STOP! We’ll get there. Just be quiet, calm yourself, and reflect. If you are reading this blog post right now you are not in danger. Take a moment and consider the experience of living under the threat of hundreds, if not thousands, of randomly fired missiles, and remember, everyone in Israel loves their families and wants a good life. Being under the constant threat of arbitrary missile fire is an awful way to live.
At the same time, it is dreadful to live in Gaza, a city with limited movement, minimal military defense, and under the aggressive eye of a militarized police force that operates under a flawed justice system.
Now, there are many people who will read this last sentence and they too will protest, “but Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to…,” but STOP! We’ll get there. Just be quiet, calm yourself, and reflect. If you are reading this you are not in danger either. Take a moment and consider the experience of living under someone else’s government, of not having hope for your children to develop a better life, of seeing your friends arrested and physically detained. People in Gaza also love their families and want a good life. Being denied self-rule is an awful way to live.
In short, if you are unwilling or unable to dedicate sixty seconds of your life to considering the actual experience of other human beings, then I don’t want you in the conversation. Go away.
2. Give credit where credit is due.
Each side is doing horrible things, but they both do their best when they can. Israel warns residents when they are going to bomb a building. They send SMSs and broadcasts in time for people to evacuate their homes. Many people have died because they ignored the warnings or were used as human shields. Maybe Israel’s warnings aren’t enough, but they are not nothing. They are a genuinely thoughtful attempt at making war just a little more moral.
At the same time, Palestinians are not, for the most part, taking up arms against Israelis. It is Hamas and their operatives who are responsible for their side of the violence. Maybe this too is not enough. Maybe the Palestinians ought to reign in the fanatics better, but Palestinian abstinence is not nothing, and it should be acknowledged.
If we can’t recognize what others are doing to try to mitigate the problem, we will only see a world of unending violence. Invoking such a distorted view of reality does no help.
3. Remember the “Independence Day” rule.
There’s a scene in the movie “Independence Day” in which a captured alien tells the President that there will be no negotiations and no peace; that the aliens just want humans to die. This scene has always bothered me. The alien is just some fighter pilot (or navigator, or gunner, or something), and not a strategist. Why should we assume that he/she/it speaks for all the other aliens. Maybe this particular alien is a racist, avenging a sibling, is off its meds, or is part of the alien KKK. We don’t know. To assume that just because one member of a group says something, everyone in the group believes it, is a classic example of bigotry.
Transfer this to the current conflict. Yes, the media has found people who want to eviscerate the enemy. There are images of Palestinians celebrating the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys and of Israelis demanding their land back. But you know what? These people are idiots. They are bigots and are most certainly members of their local versions of the KKK. All of them could really use some better meds. To highlight their reactions is to misrepresent the rest of the population.
Assuming that all Israelis and all Palestinians want to destroy each other is the same as assuming that all Americans are carrying guns and refusing to pay taxes, just like that racist in Nevada, or that all Americans think we should get rid of private property because a couple of Occupy Wall Street protesters have tattoos of Karl Marx.
If you are unwilling to accept that there are differing opinions in the population and that even most individuals are conflicted about their own positions, then you contribute little to the conversation.
4. Put things into context.
Following up on this, the actual article that inspired my comments here was a piece about Israelis eating popcorn and cheering as bombs exploded in Gaza. Assuming the article was accurate (which it might not be), we can dismiss it using the point above. There are 8 million Israelis and some reporter found a group of ten jackasses. Stop making trouble for trouble’s sake.
Perhaps more interesting, it is worth noting that I watched the first American invasion of Iraq in 1991 from a bar with my fellow college students. It was the first time CNN broadcasted an air attack and it was mesmerizing (most of us didn’t have cable). People drank while they watched, and they flirted, played pool, and oohed and aahed, but none of us were animals who actually wanted Iraqis to die. In fact, I had also just gotten back from a two-day bus trip to protest the invasion in Washington D.C. I was against the war, but I still watched it in a bar, because that’s the nature of modern life and that’s what college students do.
If you are unwilling to understand that things aren’t as simple as they seem, and that the lives we lead make us look worse than we really are, then I doubt you have much to contribute to a complex conversation. Stop talking; you are not helping.
5. Equally informed people have different opinions on the issue.
Finally, lots of the posts I have seen assume that the opposition is ignorant, that they don’t know history. This is often true. Many people are posting on Facebook who have no idea what they are talking about. But the fact that people are still learning as they post (as I am), doesn’t mean that well-informed, thoughtful, educated people can’t disagree. There are many experts on either side and each of them has legitimate points worth listening to.
If you can’t respect the intelligence of the people you are talking to, no one is going to respect yours. We are all learning and we are all figuring this out as we go along. Discussion should make us smarter and more reflective. The Israel/Gaza conflict is not the World Cup. It is not one team verses the other. These are real people with real lives. If you cannot see this, go back to point one about empathy and try again.
All of the above can be summarized as follows: when you debate points of view, you should take people at their best, not at their worst. Assume that they have good intentions and try to enter into their frame of mind. Only by respecting and truly engaging with one another can we create a stable and healthy world.